Sunday, 5 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 10. Chairs Missing.

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 10
Chairs Missing - Wire

I could have selected any of the first three Wire albums for this slot. Each is very different but the quality is the same. Taken as a body of work it these three records are an uncompromising,  cryptic and rigorous attempt to re-imagine the possibilities of rock music. And there have been many who have revisited these albums as a source, including some who took a little more than inspiration. (Stand up Elastica.)

Indeed we are now on at least the third iteration of  Wire and they have been producing interesting work since the early 2000's.  I saw them a few years back. One of the things I truly realised then was how good a drummer Robert Gotobed / Grey is and was. Not that I didn't know it already but it was just in your face. I love his performance on I Feel Mysterious Today on Chairs Missing. He mimics the sound of a ratchet as the vague fog of tension  increases. This vague unease is something Wire specialised in and was noticeable on Strange, the longest track among Pink Flag's barrage of short songs and fragments. Indeed the line from Strange: "There's something going on that's not quite right" could make itself quite comfortable in numerous Wire songs.

It is said of many cult bands that their commercial potential was never met because of lack of promotion from their major label. Wire certainly bucked this trend. They were denied their shot at Top of the Pops and a probable place in the Top 50 by over-promotion by EMI, who were caught buying copies of the magnificent Outdoor Miner in chart return shops. It had entered the chart at No 51 the previous week and, had it risen further, they were to appear on TOTP. However, after the hyping was discovered the song was erased from the charts and that was that. All that after they had extended the song to standard single length with the addition of an extra verse and some beautiful piano. It would be in my Top 10 45's, hyped or not.

What I have always felt about Wire is that they have a deep distrust of their ability to produce conventionally beautiful music and what makes them so interesting is the tension between desire and distrust. They never seem to make the obvious choices but they never seem above them either.

In I am the Fly they are "the fly in the ointment". Another song is called Sand in my Joints. They are not hawking travel brochures for a better place. They are pointing out that life is lived under pressure, often against our better natures. And if there is meaning, it is blurred. "I suppose that's the disadvantage, of not speaking a second language."

We are transported into the minds of insects and a partly dismembered doll,  we are lost at sea, or in a psychiatric institution with Lola's rougher friend, who's mercy may not be tender. These are not standard songs, or sounds, but they haunt me.

This would probably been higher if I allowed myself to treat the first three Wire albums as a trilogy, which is how I like to listen to them, soaking them all up over the course of a week. Each would have been this high on their own.

In my ongoing efforts to place all the blame for my own musical misadventures on great bands I thought of Wire when singing this. Although listening side by side it only makes my failure to achieve what I was trying to seem more apparent to me.


  1. Wire are another blindspot for me. I remember the EMI controversy but didn't realize it was over this. Funny that they had to add a verse and piano to make a single when most bands were cutting M8s and fading early. 'Outdoor Miner' is leading me to Amazon... thanks Seamus!

    1. Yes, the album version is 1.45. I love the way they finish when they want to. It's particularly exaggerated on Pink Flag where more of the songs are under a minute long than over three.

  2. a classic and Elastica had to be one of the most blatant "inspired by" / "ripped off" ever

    1. I still remember hearing Elastica for the first time and managing to grab Pink Flag and synchronise songs before Elastica were finished. Just to prove how it went beyond rip-off. It was like they'd just erased the vocals and sang over the backing track.

  3. I prefer Pink Flag but there are some great songs here, particularly on side 2. Former Airline, a B Side which appears as a bonus track on the reissued CD,is amazing- had my nerve ends jangling as I tried to mow the lawn.


    1. I find it hard to separate the first three albums. they change so much over the three while keeping the quality control in place. Former Airline sounds more 154 than Chairs Missing. It's great.